New ballet folklórico program may level the “learning field” for students of Latin-American heritage

There’s good reason the LBC is committed to expanding access to the arts for our local school children, especially the large population of students who share a Latin-American heritage. Yes, our mariachi program and a new Mexican Folk Dance class provide them an opportunity to appreciate music, learn a new skill, gain self-discipline, and take learning risks. More important, perhaps, is that arts education steeped in the students’ Mexican cultural practices and history just may be key to unlocking their learning and development – ultimately giving them access to and equity in the quality education that is a hallmark of Sonoma County.

Enter the new, year-round, after-school Mexican Folk Dance class launched at LBC this past August. A natural complement to our year-round after-school Mariachi program, the class teaches students in grades 5 – 12 entry-level skills in ballet folklórico, another name for the Mexican dance style. While the class was met with enthusiasm among local families, building the fledgling program presents some challenges that LBC hopes it can turn into opportunities so that more children in the county enjoy its many creative, academic, and developmental benefits.

Led by Victor Ferrer and Vanessa Carrillo of Sonoma County’s Grupo Folklórico Quetzalen, the new class grew out of local families’ eager interest in the ballet folklórico program launched at all three of our Summer Camp locations. Victor and Vanessa stepped up to teach it at the camps and then worked with LBC to help shape the year-’round program, which accepts students who have attended the dance program at one of the Summer Camps.

“Interest in ballet folklórico is growing in Sonoma County, with some eight programs now offering classes,” said Victor. “But the camps were a dream come true for many families in this community. Not only did the free program allow more children to participate in their cultural heritage in a new and fun way, it did so in an environment where mariachi is playing all day long. Parents know it is more than just dance their children are gaining.”

According to a 2021 study in Anthropology & Education Quarterly out of the University of Texas at El Paso, students of a non-dominant culture learning in a dominant culture’s education system can benefit immensely from ballet folklórico’s cultural, historical, social, and emotional activity. The dance is grounded in the values of their Latin heritage and their families’ visions for the future — the very elements that researchers say untap their inherent capabilities for knowing, thinking, and speaking. Meaning, it levels the “learning field” in our schools so that all students can be successful.

Building the Class – Step by Step

Folklórico is a dance style with as much complexity, variety, and history as the country of Mexico itself, so creating a full-fledged program at LBC presents some complications. Folklórico refers to many traditional dances from Mexico’s different regions and states, rather than one single style. Sometimes a dance will depict an animal from the area, a historical event that happened there, or another element of the local lifestyle. “Each region’s dance not only comes with its own steps but its own costume as well,” said Tracy Sawyer, Community Partnerships Supervisor. “In fact, in many regions of Mexico, the manipulation of the skirt, or falda, is a key element for women dancers. The length of the skirt and the type of skirt work signal where the dance might be from. We have practice skirts, but to perform the dances authentically and respectfully, we’ll need different costumes for each one.”

With a limited amount of space and staff, the new class currently can accommodate only 26 students. “Right now, the class meets just once a week in a spare conference room that is carpeted,” said Tracy. “We’d like to offer it twice a week, which is the ideal schedule to develop new skills. We’d also like to provide a space with the right kind of flooring for the percussive beat that comes from the dancers’ shoes. In folklórico, the sound of the heel and the beat of the dance steps becomes part of the music.”

“Our new Mexican folk dance class is another step forward in our mission to empower young minds through the arts, and it’s thanks to our donor’s continued support that we can make such enriching experiences possible,” said Tracy. “As part of the program, we plan to have small performances for the community, which is an essential component to participating in the art. We hope many members of the community will join us as we open doors to this world of rhythm, color, and creativity.”

Donate to support this program today!

Owned and operated by the Luther Burbank Memorial Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization (Tax ID #94-2581084). | Designed by Schipper Design | Built & Maintained by Inbound Design
Call Box Office